From time to time, almost every working adult will struggle with work-life balance. But what does work-life balance even mean?
Simply put, work-life balance is how your obligations at work and home are prioritized. It boils down to how many hours a week you spend focusing on your career – completing projects, turning in assignments, responding to emails – versus the time in a week you spend engaging in activities in your personal life, like spending time with friends and family, running personal errands, exercising, or even just relaxing.
Americans work a lot. In fact, a 2015 Gallup poll found that Americans who are employed full-time work 47 hours a week on average, or the equivalent of nearly six days a week. And, nearly four in 10 workers reported logging more than 50 hours a week working.
With this amount of time being devoted to our professional lives, when the scales tip in work-life balance, it’s usually towards more work and less play. That can be fine for short periods but long term it can be problematic.
When the delicate balance between your career and personal life are out of whack – and stay out of whack – it can leave you feeling off-kilter, frustrated, and resentful. But, since a demanding work life often stems from a demanding boss, it can be difficult to know how to broach the topic.
We’ve compiled 4 tips for having a productive conversation with your boss or manager about work-life balance. Read on to learn how to find the balance you seek.
Do some soul searching
Before you discuss the issue with your manager, do your best to get to the root of the problem. Is your personal life suffering because of unrealistic expectations from your superiors at work, or is it possible that these expectations are self-imposed and that you are “overworking” your job?
How do you judge? One way to gauge whether the problem lies with you or whether it lies with your boss is to work a normal 40-hour week and see what happens. Skip staying late for one week. Forbid yourself from logging work time over the weekends and then just wait.
If your boss doesn’t notice that you haven’t worked longer hours or completed extra work, the demand might be self-inflicted. If your boss does notice and mentions it, make a note. This will become important in later discussions.
Identify the problem
If you’ve determined that the pressure you feel at work is, in fact, coming from your manager, next you must identify the exact problem.
Ask yourself: Is your work-life imbalance stemming from an unreasonable workload that is impossible to complete within the confines of a 40-hour work week? If so, you aren’t alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one-third of employed people in the U.S. spend some part of their weekends doing work.
For others, the problem of balancing life and career lies in a rigid schedule that doesn’t offer the flexibility to duck out of work for, say, an annual doctor’s appointment or important errand. Both scenarios can be frustrating and confining.
Identify the source of the problem before you meet with your boss. This will allow you to come to the meeting armed with suggestions on how to handle the situation at hand.
Arrange a meeting and come prepared with ideas
Once you have identified the problem, ask for a meeting and come equipped with solutions. This will look different for everyone but here are some possibilities:
- Suggest ways to delegate tasks to spread the workload more evenly across your team to lighten your workload.
- Request flexible hours that work better with your schedule. For example, if you are a parent and want more time with your children, you might suggest a schedule that allows you to work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. instead of the normal 9-to-5.
- Suggest an amended schedule. Instead of working five days a week, ask to work four 10-hour shifts. This will enable you to have three days off each week instead of the typical two-day weekend.
- Request a longer lunch break. This will allow you to run errands or attend appointments without taking time off work.
- Suggest one work-from-home day each week. Cutting your commute out of your day even one day a week can free up additional hours.
- While not ideal, asking for unpaid time off can be a solution in a pinch.
Know when to move on
A severe work-life balance can wreak havoc on your well-being. If you’ve exhausted all these possibilities and still can’t make headway in achieving a reasonable work-life balance, it may be time to move on. This means you’ll have to dust off your job application skills, and get ready to build a resume and cover letter for each new opportunity you discover. Put aside some time each week to begin looking for a new job. Finding this time will likely be tough, given that your work-life balance is already out of whack, but it’s critical that you find it. You’ll never move on to a better work-life balance situation if you don’t.
The best way to ensure a rational work-life balance next time around? Ask about it during the interview process, or do some research on the company you land an interview with to see what its employees (or past employees) have to say about work-life balance.
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